For a seven-year stretch between 2011 and 2018, Johnny Manziel was practically synonymous with the word “headline.” Now he’s in the headlines once more for the upcoming Netflix documentary, “Untold: Johnny Football,” chronicling his rise and fall.
What Happened to Former Cleveland Browns and Texas A&M Aggies Quarterback Johnny Manziel?
The collegiate star became a household name during his tenure at Texas A&M. Nicknamed “Johnny Football,” the star Aggies quarterback won a Heisman Trophy in 2012 for his 47 total touchdowns and captivating, devil-may-care play style.
Unfortunately, Manziel acted with that same reckless abandon off the field, and he wasn’t nearly quite so charmed there. In fact, Manziel’s many off-field issues are what ultimately doomed his short-lived NFL career.
See, there were warning signs coming out of A&M. Manziel was oft-criticized for his, shall we say, swag and his signature “Money Manziel” touchdown celebration. He incurred a half-game suspension from the NCAA and was also arrested for disorderly conduct and false identification as a redshirt freshman, per CNN.
But when the 2014 NFL Draft rolled around, the Cleveland Browns, long desperate for a franchise QB to call their own, became captivated by Manziel’s talents and, seemingly, convinced they could work out the kinks.
Manziel’s Short-Lived, Yet Chaotic NFL Career
It didn’t take long for Manziel to attract the wrong kind of attention in the pros. He garnered headlines for an obscene hand gesture directed toward the Washington bench during his first professional preseason.
— NFL Retweet (@NFLRT) August 14, 2015
He seemingly kept it on the straight and narrow throughout the rest of his rookie season. There was some kind of dustup between a Manziel associate and a reportedly intoxicated fan in November of 2014, but Manziel was absolved of any wrongdoing in that. He saw his first extensive pro snaps soon thereafter.
They were underwhelming. Manziel threw zero touchdown passes in Year 1. He completed just over half of his pass attempts and threw for a meager five yards per attempt.
Per one Complex article from January 2015 regarding the quarterback, teammates seemed to think his hard-partying ways often had him unprepared and even hungover come game day. One anonymous teammate referred to his career as a “100 percent joke.”
To his credit, Manziel recognized that he had a problem and checked himself into a drug-and-alcohol treatment facility in Pennsylvania near the end of January. He issued the following statement upon his exit.
“I owe private apologies to a lot of people that I disappointed but a very public one to the Browns organization and the fans that I let down. I take full responsibility for my actions, and it’s my intention to work very hard to regain everyone’s trust and respect.”
Manziel kept a comparatively low profile through the 2015 season. He had a couple of moving violations, one of which reportedly involved some kind of domestic issue, but no charges were filed.
Manziel did show some progress on the field in 2015. He got a half dozen starts and won a couple of them. He had a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio and was an asset as a ball carrier as well.
Compared to the year prior, Manziel’s second go-round in the pros had been fairly innocuous. Not overwhelmingly positive by any means, but he wasn’t drawing as much negative attention either.
Until right at the end of the season when he went far out of his way to avoid attention, that is. Manziel was already ruled out for the season finale with a concussion, but his weekend itinerary in lieu of supporting his teammates was, well, questionable.
This bizarre Bleacher Report article from January 2016 details how Manziel missed Cleveland’s final game of the 2015 season … because he was across the country partying in Las Vegas. But a celebrity of Manziel’s caliber would certainly be subject to unwanted attention in such a bustling metropolis.
So he went to great lengths to avoid detection. Manziel reportedly adopted the alias of “Billy” and donned glasses, a blonde wig, and a false mustache to avoid being recognized as he partied into the wee hours of the morning.
— Shopalooza Fanatic (@shopaloozafan) January 31, 2016
Since you just read that paragraph, it’s safe to say his efforts were for naught.
While there was an element of humor to the saga of “Billy Football,” the next turn in Manziel’s saga was far more unsettling.
Another Bleacher Report article from just a few weeks later detailed how Manziel allegedly assaulted his ex-girlfriend Colleen Crowley in Dallas, Texas. He reportedly wrestled with her both inside and outside of a car, struck her with an open hand on the ear, and threatened to kill both her and himself. According to reports, it was only after they arrived at her apartment and she pulled a knife on him that he fled the scene.
“He grabbed me by my hair and threw me back into the car and got back in himself,” Crowley told the police, per News 8. “He hit me with his open hand on my left ear for jumping out of the car. I realized immediately that I could not hear out of that ear, and I still cannot today, two days later.”
The Browns would ultimately tire of Manziel’s erratic behavior (chronicled brilliantly here by CNN) and the negative headlines it drew; they severed ties with him just over a month later.
The whirlwind fallout from that was a doozy, both for Manziel and onlookers alike. He’d ultimately face misdemeanor assault charges and become the subject of a no-contact restraining order protecting Crowley.
Not long after, Manziel was back to his hard-partying ways. He popped up at Coachella and a few other popular social events looking noticeably thinner.
— The Sporting News (@sportingnews) April 18, 2016
For a while, Manziel continued on the only course he’s ever known: partying and football.
After a year out of the league, Manziel would try to catch on in several different pro leagues. He saw a fair amount of playing time with the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League in 2018, but his performance was largely unspectacular.
The Alouettes terminated Manziel’s contract at the season’s end, in accordance with CFL instruction. Per USA Today, Manziel failed to fulfill contractual agreements and, as a result, was barred from the league altogether.
The league declined to say what specific requirement Manziel failed to satisfy, but one can glean some pretty compelling insight from this particular sentence:
“The CFL had declined to make public those conditions, citing Canadian privacy laws, but Manziel told USA TODAY Sports that they included weekly therapy appointments, mandatory doctor visits, and monthly Lithium tests.”
Manziel had a cup of coffee with two other short-lived pro leagues, the Alliance of American Football and the Fan Controlled Football, and that seemingly put a bow on his pro career.
What’s Manziel Doing Now?
To talk about what Manziel’s doing now, we have to revisit once more what he was doing then.
See, when Manziel got cut by the Browns, he turned back to his most prevalent crutches: partying and substance use. Some feared that these issues might ultimately cost Manziel his life.
But, per ESPN, the former Aggies star revealed in his upcoming Netflix doc that death was very much the goal.
Former Football star Johnny Manziel opens up about planning to commit suicide after finding out he's bipolar.
“I got diagnosed as bipolar and I felt like it was the same as being called an alcoholic or a drug addict,”
"Spend as much money as I possibly could and then my plan… pic.twitter.com/XRzzVU8FzK
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) August 4, 2023
“I had planned to do everything I wanted to do at that point in my life, spend as much money as I possibly could, and then my plan was to take my life,” Manziel said in the documentary, according to multiple reports. “I wanted to get as bad as humanly possible to where it made sense, and it made it seem like an excuse and an out for me.”
He’d go on to confirm that he even made an attempt on his own life, ultimately being spared by little more than dumb luck.
“Still to this day, don’t know what happened. But the gun just clicked on me,” he said in the documentary, according to multiple reports.
Information is relatively scarce about what Manziel’s up to in his personal life these days. Tuning into “Untold: Johnny Football” Tuesday, Aug. 8, might provide some more insight on that.
But the fact that Manziel is around to appear in his own documentary, rather than be the subject of it posthumously, is a win in this writer’s book.